Shocking Comments About Kosciuszko
By West Point Curator
I thought you might be interested in these outrageous comments made by Paul Ackermann, curator of the museum at the United States Military Academy. He is trying to rewrite American History and slander Kosciuszko. Ackermann should be fired for this.
Below is my letter to the USMA Superintendent General Robert Caslen.
Dear West Point
I would like to request a meeting to discuss the shocking comments by United States Military Academy Museum curator Paul Ackermann, who in the January 2015 issue of Hudson Valley Magazine, falsely claims that Chief Engineer Kosciuszko wanted to desert his post at West Point and says he was “extremely overrated.”
This in an international embarrassment for the USMA because during a speech in 2013 West Point Superintendent Gen. David Huntoon stood next to the President of Poland during to his visit to the Academy and said: “Without Kosciuszko, there would be no West Point.” In his book, “The River and the Rock,” former USMA Superintendent Gen. Dave Palmer praises Kosciuszko for his role in designing and building Fortress West Point.
The comprehensive documents prepared by the USMA Department of History, entitled “Highland’s Fortress” identifies the dates of the establishment of each of the fortifications and verifies that the majority were built by Kosciuszko from March 1778 to August 1780. This is confirmed by former USMA Chief of Military History, retired Col. Dr. Jim Johnson (West Point Class of 69).
Ackermann falsely says that Kosciuszko’s work was “not how West Point reached its final extent of defenses.” Several books, including my own, clearly show that the Americans followed Kosciuszko’s ideas for the system of redoubts. Prominent 19th century American historian George Bancroft wrote, “Until 1778, West Point was a solitude, nearly inaccessible; now it was covered by fortresses with numerous redoubts, constructed chiefly under the direction of Kosciuszko as an engineer, and so connected as to form one system of defense, which was impregnable.”
Ackermann says, “Kosciuszko essentially learned on the job, but was not a highly skilled engineer.” That is not true. Kosciuszko, who studied at military academies in Warsaw and Paris, was the most talented engineer in the Continental Army and praised by George Washington. Kosciuszko learned the war strategies of Marshal Vauban, Europe’s foremost authority on building and besieging forts. He studied architecture with Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, the engineer who had built the most beautiful bridges, roads and buildings in Paris. That’s why Congress and Washington chose Kosciuszko to be the Chief Engineer at West Point.
Ackermann is either ignorant, or dishonest about Kosciuszko’s role in building West Point, either of which disqualifies him from being the curator of the museum. Ackermann should be dismissed from his post.
At a time when the Friends of the American Revolution at West Point, Inc. are raising funds to restore Kosciuszko’s redoubts, and museums, historical and cultural organizations in the USA, Australia and Poland are petitioning UNESCO to declare 2017 “The Year of Kosciuszko,” Ackermann’s malicious words are destructive to these efforts.
Ackermann’s scandalous comments are also a slap in the face to the members of The Kosciuszko Foundation: The American Center of Polish Culture; The American Association of the Friends of Kosciuszko at West Point, and to Distinguished Graduate General Ed Rowny (West Point class of 1941), who over the years donated a great deal of money for the restoration and upkeep of Kosciuszko’s Garden at West Point so that USMA cadets could spend time there.
Given the way Ackermann is identified in the article, as USMA Museum curator, it appears that the USMA has changed its official position on Kosciuszko. Ackermann says that Kosciuszko “tried to abandon his job and quit.” That is a lie. After more than two years of construction detail, Kosciuszko asked for a tougher assignment, to be sent back into battle. That’s hardly and attempt at “abandonment.” Ackermann knows this, so his slanderous comments cross the legal definition of actual malice in libel law.
The history is clear. Kosciuszko took Washington on a tour of the hills above West Point and explained that unless they cover the high grounds with redoubts and forts, the Americans would lose the fort below on the plains.
That is exactly what happened at Fort Ticonderoga. When the Americans did not follow Kosciuszko’s advice to cover the high ground, they lost Fort Ticonderoga to the British. That’s why during the Battle of Saratoga, the Americans followed Kosciuszko’s advice, which resulted in a victory and the turning point of the Revolution. As a result of that victory, France joined the American cause. That’s why at West Point, Washington agreed with his Polish engineer and ordered the officers to follow Kosciuszko’s plans.
It’s embarrassing that two centuries later, the USMA museum has a curator that does not understand this. Capturing the high ground was the main British strategy during the Benedict Arnold plot. It’s all there in black and white.
Ackermann’s outrageous display of malice toward Kosciuszko is so maligning that he tells the reporter Kosciuszko’s only wound during the Revolution was “a bayonet in the buttocks.” Seriously? That’s how low Ackermann went? The truth is that at the end of Kosciuszko’s life, doctors who examined him were amazed that he could stand because of all his war injuries.
Kosciuszko was crippled during his stay as a prisoner of war in Czarist Russia, and his experience in the American Revolution led to a Revolution in Poland, which passed the first written democratic constitution in Europe, second in the world only to the American Constitution.
During his lifetime, Kosciuszko stood up for the rights of Black slaves, European serfs, Jews, Native Americans and women. Kosciuszko’s motto was “for your freedom and ours.”
His close friend, Thomas Jefferson called Kosciuszko “The purest son of liberty I have ever known.” And archival letters show that Jefferson followed Kosciuszko’s suggestion to establish a military school like those in Europe. That is why as President Jefferson signed legislation establishing the USMA at West Point, the fortress built by Kosciuszko. That is why the tallest statue at West Point is the Kosciuszko monument. Jefferson even asked that Kosciuszko be buried next to him at Monticello.
Ackermann’s comments are the most outrageous attack on Kosciuszko’s work at West Point since Benedict Arnold tried to sell Kosciuszko’s plans for the fort to the British. Ackermann’s words are historical treason.
If anything, the USMA should be helping to restore the significant historic redoubts and artifacts of the American Revolution, and not besmirching heroes that fought “for your freedom and ours.”
I look forward to meeting with you to discuss this further.
President Emeritus & Vice Chairman of
The Board of Trustees
The Kosciuszko Foundation
15 East 65th Street
New York, NY 10065
* Author of: “The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution”
* Writer/Director of upcoming documentary “Kosciuszko”